There are six secrets behind every truly kickass minestrone and I am about to divulge them.

Step one: If you’re a nice Italian girl, go watch your mother make it and do exactly what she does. If you aren’t, proceed to step two.

Step two: Get yourself a copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by the formidable Marcella Hazan. For god’s sake – even the nice Italian girls in my nice Italian family with their own mothers who cook Italian like nobody’s business have a copy of Marcella on their shelves. She will boss you around with her withering tone, and that is part of the thrill of cooking with Hazan. For, after all, you’re in the company of a master. And if you submit to her bossings, whatever she has you cook will turn out fantastic, every time. My minestrone is tightly based on hers.

Step three: As a rule, sautée everything that goes into your minestrone. Everything, dammit! It brings out the sweetness and richness of every vegetable. It makes your soup fabulously edible at every single stage. What I mean is, even when I only have the onion and the carrot in my pot, all sticky and golden and waiting for the next seven ingredients, I always pause and think, “That right there is good enough to pull out of the pot right this second and serve as a side dish. It’s already delicious! And it’s not even soup yet” (as below).

My mother sometimes skips the olive oil, but I figure if you’re going to eat a giant bowl of veg for supper, you need the olive oil, so it’ll hold you till the next meal.

Step four: Salt and pepper everything, liberally, at every stage. You have no idea how good this makes it.

Step five: Use decent stock. I’m not saying you have to make your own, but since you’re doing ablutions for the sins of modern living at the stove there with all that fine whole food, try and find a brand that isn’t full of MSG. My heart belongs to Harvest Sun, which is organic, yeast-free, heavy on lovage (the most romantic-sounding herb in Christendom) and rich for a powdered bouillon.

Step six: This is the clincher, and I can’t believe I’m ruining all of my mystique in one swoop by letting it out of the bag like this: Buy a little piece of parmigiano reggiano and keep it in your cheese drawer, and whenever you make this soup, cut off a hunk of the rind and drop it into the mix while it’s cooking. It’ll infuse your pot with a salty depth that veg just cannot muster on its own (at least not the veg that goes into this soup). It thickens your broth a little too, and the flavour will unite mightily with the sprinkling of parm that you’ll shake on top of your own bowl when the soup is ready to be eaten.

There you have it. And now that you know the secrets behind the mothersoup, the mastersoup, the mighty minestrone, you will no longer be impressed when you eat it at my house.

Here’s my recipe. (I’m stripping myself to the bone now. Nothing left.) Make it on a Sunday, double it if you want, freeze lots of it. It’s the nicest thing to pull out on a night when you’re rushed, served with a good old-fashioned tuna melt, or a tuna salad, Italian-style, with purple onion on arugula – or with pizza. (A soup very similar to this one was served alongside pizza every Friday evening during my teenage years. Too many bad boyfriends got in on that soup!)

But anyway:

The Mothersoup (an almost-Hazan minestrone)

Six cups stock (chicken or veg, from bouillon or homemade)

extra-virgin olive oil (enough to heavily coat the bottom of your pot. Marcella says to use half a cup, but that seems crazy)

1 tbsp butter (Marcella says 3. But come on.)

1 cup onion

1 cup carrot

1 cup celery (Include the leaves and stick your head in the pot while they’re cooking. They are fragrant. In fact, every time I buy celery, I chop and freeze the leaves for this purpose. It comes so good.)

4 or 5 zucchini

2 cups potato

One can Romano beans

A hunk of crust from a wedge of parmigiano-reggiano

One can whole tomatoes, with their juices

Salt and pepper

Thyme

Start by making your stock and chopping all of your veg. I always send everything through the Cuisinart; it makes super-fast work of the chopping and makes nice thin slices of every vegetable. (There’s something vulgar about chunky vegetables in minestrone. Does a bowl of vegetable soup have to look like a bowl full of vegetables? If you’re going to spend the time transforming produce into something out-of-this-worldly, do a number on that roughage. Let it know who has the complex nervous system around here.)

Now for the cooking: Start with a big soup pot turned up to a lively heat. Heat your olive oil, then add the butter. Then you start adding the vegetables one at a time, in this order, cooking each for 3 to 5 minutes before adding the next, and salt-and-peppering at every stage: onion, carrot, celery, zucchini, potatoes. Do your stirring with a wooden spoon.

When the veg looks good enough to pull out of the pot and eat as is, add your stock, the tomatoes with their juices, a final grind of pepper, a heavy sprinkling of thyme, rolling it between your fingers to release its oils, and the hunk of parm rind. Squash the tomatoes with your potato masher or against the back of a fork. (You could also do this before you add them; I don’t know why I don’t.)

Give everything a big stir, see to it that your soup has come to a bubble, then lower the heat and let it simmer.

Next, clean up and read a magazine for a while, while your tidy kitchen fills with the smell of all this. You can let it cook for half an hour – or two hours, if you have the time. The longer all the elements have to marry, the better. Last: Drain the can of beans, stir them in and cook the soup for another 20 minutes or so.

Serve with a sprinkling of grated parm on top.

And tell me how it goes.

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